Atlas Pearls celebrates 25 years of pearling in Indonesia. The company opened its pilot pearling venture in Kupang in 1993 when a small team of passionate pioneers decided to literally load the farm on a boat and relocate infrastructure and oysters to a bigger site in the pristine waters of Raja Ampat, West Papua in 1998. The company completed its first sizeable harvest of 50,000 pearls in 2000 and went on to open 5 more sites, some focused on oyster grow-out, others dedicated to pearl production.
25 years later, the company employs over 900 employees, spread through the Indonesian archipelago from East Java to West Papua and aims at harvesting over 500,000 pearls in 2019. “The company took off thanks to hatchery technology in the early nineties and went on to almost double its production every 5 years since then” said Pierre Fallourd, Managing Director. “The original intent was to apply modern pearling techniques at commercial scale, with the double objective to remain competitive globally whilst being relevant to its market and fulfil underlying demand for mid-sized white South Sea Pearls”.
Australian graduates and Indonesian nationals from all corners of the archipelago partnered to learn the ropes of the business together with the same objective – producing the best pearls in the world. Cultural intelligence has been at the forefront of the growth of Atlas Pearls. Aligning a labour-intensive, oyster driven 4-year production cycle is no easy task and there is no recipe to keep a 25 years long love story going between Australia and Indonesia.
Since its inception, Atlas has been operating under a strict mandate of transfer of wealth, knowledge and environmental preservation. This mandate has become a way of life, imbedded in the company’s culture and values, but one may be surprised by how reciprocal this relationship became over the years. Atlas pearl technicians often obtain better results than their esteemed Japanese counterparts. The passion and dedication of our Indonesian senior management team often outweighs western graduates’ theoretical knowledge.
The company embraced the concept of sustainability since its inception and engaged early on in CSR activities both as a result of Indonesia’s requirements to do business there but also and more importantly as a commitment and deeper belief to deliver the best possible output using as little non-renewable resources as possible. The concept of reduce/ re-use/ re-cycle was implemented early on and is reviewed regularly to ensure minimum impact and waste at all sites.
Hatchery technology allowed Atlas Pearls to dramatically reduce the need for wild shells and facilitated selective breeding programs dedicated to further improve shell productivity and output, whilst turning modern pearling into a non-extractive and more sustainable business.
The pearl industry has experienced difficult times, including the GFC in 2009, recurring adverse ocean conditions, extreme weather occurrences and overwhelming natural disasters, to name a few.
As much as Man tries to influence the elements, Nature always has the last word and the past few years have proved the old adage right once again. Production of high-quality South Sea Pearls has been adversely affected following a sequence of particularly strong El Nino and La Nina events, affecting current circulation and food supply in and out of Indonesia, especially on the equator line.
25 years may be perceived as a long time, and yet it is actually quite short by pearling standards. A complete production cycle can last up to 5 or even 7 years. One only has so many full production cycles to run during their career to “get it right”.
Once again, Man has had to adapt and adjust cultivation time and techniques to overcome those challenges and be able to continue steadily supplying the pearl trade market. Pearl size and the ability of oysters to produce quality nacre has been at the forefront of all efforts deployed over the past few years and requires heavy investment in order to cope with those adjustments.
The passion and dedication of the people behind the pearls are key to consistently deliver good harvests and provide pearl traders and wholesalers alike with quality pearls.
A lot has changed in the past 25 years. Love and passion has certainly played a vital role. Shareholders and stakeholders have been mobilized and always answered positively in difficult times and we look forward to reciprocating.
The most noticeable on-going operational adjustments are oyster-centric and consist in mitigating oyster stress by limiting transport occurrences and ensure only the best animals undergo seeding and are subject to the best possible care throughout their productive lifecycle.
Atlas Pearls has engaged in various international pearl education and awareness initiatives over the past few years. Including collaborating with Cultured Pearl Association of America (CPAA), Gemmological Institute of America (GIA) and the Japanese Pearl Exporter Association (JPEA). All working towards improving classification, acknowledgement, exposure and certificate of origin of Indonesian pearls.
The Company then embarked on an Australian promotion tour directed at the next tier of customers: retailers and end consumers, areas where a lot of education remains to be done.
All corners of Atlas operations are reviewed and adjusted on a continuous basis to ensure best practises are in place, from hatchery to harvest, as well as pearl grading to jewellery manufacturing.
The next chapter will be one of increased collaboration within the industry to grow the pearl market as a category, aligning our activities to be even more efficient and listening to our clients more carefully to become even more relevant to them.
For more information on Atlas Pearls, please visit www.atlaspearls.com.au.